Category: racism

Beyoncé, Infidelity, and Justice

beyonce-lemonadeThe force of nature, singer, and social communicator known as Beyoncé released not only a full album this weekend, but an accompanying visual album with it. This extended video is an artful, insightful, personal expression of grief, anger, and hope.

Did Jay Z cheat on Beyoncé???

Immediately people started writing about it, spectating about it. And if you saw most of the mainstream coverage, you might get the idea that this album is a personal confession of loved loss and subsequent revenge.

If you assume Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album is simply and only a musical rant about a troubled marriage, it’s time to pick up one of James Baldwin’s personal essays. As I have learned from my writer husband, Glen Retief, in a Baldwin essay, the personal reflects the public. Baldwin explores his personal life as he unearths and explains the racist world around him.

james-baldwin-quoteLetter from a Region in My Mind, which appeared in the New Yorker in 1963, provides a perfect model of how Baldwin did this. The self-reflection in this piece is stunning, brutally honest, as is his exposé of the white world around him. Writing to a predominantly white audience, Baldwin candidly shares about his early church experiences, including how he worked that system as a way to pursue a life he saw only in his dreams.

Baldwin Makes the personal public and political

His searing commentary about the world around him, police brutality, white supremacy, and the conditions that kept the oppressive systems from changing get reflected in his own personal experiences.

I did not intend to allow the white people of this country to tell me who I was, and limit me that way, and polish me off that way. And yet, of course, at the same time, I was being spat on and defined and described and limited, and could have been polished off with no effort whatever. Every Negro boy—in my situation during those years, at least—who reaches this point realizes, at once, profoundly, because he wants to live, that he stands in great peril and must find, with speed, a “thing,” a gimmick, to lift him out, to start him on his way. And it does not matter what the gimmick is. It was this last realization that terrified me and—since it revealed that the door opened on so many dangers—helped to hurl me into the church. And, by an unforeseeable paradox, it was my career in the church that turned out, precisely, to be my gimmick.

tumblr_m84or1rlm61qh021co1_1280A Double Outsider: Black and Gay

Adding to Baldwin’s distress, a Black man in a white oppressive world, he was beginning to understand that he also was a man who was sexually attracted to other men, making him a a double outsider. I love how he describes those days when he was a teen preacher, revered by the church, finally able to have some privacy as he prepared sermons, only to find that in those quiet moments, he could not escape reality.

It was, for a long time, in spite of—or, not inconceivably because of—the shabbiness of my motives, my only sustenance, my meat and drink. I rushed home from school, to the church, to the altar, to be alone there, to commune with Jesus, my dearest Friend, who would never fail me, who knew all the secrets of my heart. Perhaps He did, but I didn’t, and the bargain we struck, actually, down there at the foot of the cross, was that He would never let me find out.

He failed his bargain. He was a much better Man than I took Him for.

The Weight of Freedom

In most Baldwin essays, the personal becomes the public and in turn is very political. He ruthlessly explores his own life with all of its inconsistencies, weaknesses, and deceptions, in order to expose the lies in the dominant culture around him. His personal vulnerability gives him moral authority to speak openly about many things that people in society fear to see let alone say.


This has everything to do, of course, with the nature of that dream and with the fact that we Americans, of whatever color, do not dare examine it and are far from having made it a reality. There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior. And this human truth has an especially grinding force here, where identity is almost impossible to achieve and people are perpetually attempting to find their feet on the shifting sands of status. (Consider the history of labor in a country in which, spiritually speaking, there are no workers, only candidates for the hand of the boss’s daughter.) Furthermore, I have met only a very few people—and most of these were not Americans—who had any real desire to be free. Freedom is hard to bear. It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation. We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels. Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.

beyonce-lemonade-albumDirty Laundry? A personal & political exposé

I see something similar in Beyoncé’s newest work in Lemonade and Formation. If someone watches or hears Beyoncé right now and assumes she is yet another celebrity airing her dirty laundry through art, they miss the point.

As Michael Arcaneaux writes in his Rolling Stones piece, Beyoncé Brings Fury, Forgiveness on Bracing ‘Lemonade,’

Lemonade turns out to be about much more than relationships, though. The album focuses on love, pain and womanhood – specifically black womanhood. On “Freedom,” the line, “I break chains all by myself,” reflects a tale that’s all too familiar for many black women, yet the album’s title refers to a crucial transformative act: being handed less-than-ideal circumstances and finding joy and contentedness all the same.

Lilly Worknell, senior editor for Huffington Post Black voices explores this further,808f1410-ebf9-0133-2439-0e1b1c96d76b

Nowhere is Beyoncé’s message more profound than in her song “Freedom,” which fittingly features a verse from pro-black artist Kendrick Lamar.

The song, which talks about blackness in America, includes many amazing visuals of various fierce black women who proudly rock picked-out fros and other dynamic hairstyles in scenes that reflect and reaffirm their collective beauty.

“Freedom” is also filled with stirring, soulful lyrics and powerful images of black women 808f2600-ebf9-0133-800d-0e31b36aeb7fwho have lost black men in their lives, including Gwen Carr, Sybrina Fulton and Lezley McSpadden, the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, respectively.

“Freedom, freedom, where are you? ‘Cause I need freedom, too,” Bey sings. “I’ma keep running ‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”

She is making political commentary in very much the same way that Baldwin used his art and self-revelation to condemn and explain the world in which he lived.

Then there is the poetry of Warsaw Shire, the Somali-British poet whose work Beyoncé includes in her visual album. She quotes directly from several poems including The Weight of Staying, a poem that can be read in both very personal and political ways.

Who is Beyoncé gonna hit with that baseball bat?

What some white commentators have objected to in Beyoncé’s latest work starting with Formation is that she is not playing the “nice girl” sticking to “safe” topics. Instead she reveals her indignation. A song about guns, audio of Malcolm X, and Super Bowl dancers dressed as Black Panthers sends a chill down white America’s spine. I can imagine some of my fellow whites silently or not so silently asking“Why is she not smiling anymore? And when she does, what does that smile mean?” To which I remind them and myself: It’s not always and forever about us.

But tracking this reactions can be useful. It is essential for white America to explore these fears along with the shame and sadness and confusion we experience with the same sort of fearless, honest, self-reflection and social commentary that James Baldwin perfected.


Lovers and Lemonade

In his essay, Baldwin writes about a dinner he had with Elijah Muhammed, the head of the Nation of Islam–a meal filled with tension and revelation. Again he uses his power of self-reflection and analysis to dig deeper into the issues. He then  concludes his essay with both the hope of redemption and the threat of violence. Like in Lemonade, Baldwin speaks of lovers and also brings in some wrathful fire. now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise. If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!

I encourage you to take some time and read Baldwin’s essay. It is long and well worth the read. It is sobering, enlightening, and liberating to the brain. It is a fusion of art and activism with a beautiful punch.

In researching for this blog piece I learned from Damon Young’s in his piece, Dear White People Who Write Things: Here’s How to Write about Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Over at The Root, Damon Young also has an excellent piece entitled, Why Black Women Should Have the First Glass of Beyoncé’s Lemonade Explained. He wrote the piece in response to some of the criticism by Piers Morgan. Maiysha Kai talks about the personal aspects of Lemonade, the infidelity of a spouse, and how it speaks to her directly: Beyoncé’s Lemonade the Pain of Infidelity and the Power of Forgiveness. And check out Formation (below) by Beyoncé to see her artful blending of the personal and the public with an eye towards exposing injustice. It is loaded with so many historical reference.

Traffic Stop: White people listening to Black Stories

Network by Tom Price at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Network by Tom Price at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

If you ever listen to America’s National Public Radio, you likely have heard StoryCorps.  Two people, usually friends or family, sit in front of a microphone and tell a story.

The stories that ultimately air are moving, tender, and important. Their staff members edit them expertly.

The Beauty of StoryCorps

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

As someone who loves audio, I’m drawn into their stories. But not everyone likes to listen to podcasts or radio. They want visuals. StoryCorps also creates animation to go with some of their stories.

But Whose Stories Do we Believe?

Traffic Stop is devastating and powerful. We learn of Alex Landau, a Black man, and his dreadful encounter with police officers during a traffic stop. His experience is not uncommon. For decades Black men and women have been telling this same story. Most white people have not been listening.

Perhaps more white people are beginning to hear and listen as a multitude of eyewitness accounts come out because of the Black Lives Matter protests. There now is increased media coverage.

These stories of injustice, racism, and police brutality are not new stories, but like Doubting Thomas of old, lots of white folks need to see it to believe. The hours of video that now capture the violence through smart phones and other devices give white people the proof they feel they need when they have refused to trust Black victims reporting about their own experiences.

White Privilege and Hearing Stories

Alex Landau and his mother, Patsy Hathaway, on a visit to StoryCorps.

Alex Landau and his mother, Patsy Hathaway, on a visit to StoryCorps.

This selective listening/believing is a feature of privilege–white privilege means that as a white man I am more likely to believe and trust stories I hear from other white men.

When the person telling the story is different from me, doubts and suspicions emerge–It sounds like she is exaggerating. I need to know the whole story first. I’m sure there was some misunderstanding. There is an immediate siding with the person in the story who looks most like me. These reactions rise unbidden. They serve to kick the knees out of a person’s story. The reactions inoculate me from truly hearing and from feeling responsible to do anything to change the system.

Countering the privileged-driven reactions requires self-awareness. The starting point for me is to be aware and acknowledge that someone tampered with my brain. Many someones in fact. The reality is I was raised by my society to be racist and sexist.

This is not about how I feel or think I feel or want to feel towards people of color. It is how my brain has been programmed to react through a relentless barrage of messages I received from films, TV shows, news reports, and from other fellow whites. We impart to each other a code that gets passed on like a computer virus. It becomes part of our internal system and affects our thinking and feelings around people who are different from us.

We not only need to reeducate ourselves; we need to rewire our brains.

Listening deeply to stories changes our brains.

Perhaps it is the brilliance of StoryCorps to bring out a story that creatively reveals white privilege in action for the majority white NPR audience. Alex’ mom is white and middle class. She never imagined her Black male son was at risk of being targeted by the police.

Alex Landau, who is African-American, was adopted by a white couple as a child and grew up in largely white, middle-class suburbs of Denver.

Still, “we never talked about race growing up,” Landau tells his mother, Patsy Hathaway, on a visit to StoryCorps. “I just don’t think that was ever a conversation.”

“I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn’t matter,” Hathaway says. “I had to learn the really hard way when they almost killed you.”

That was in 2009, when Landau, then a college student, was stopped by Denver police officers and severely beaten.

Take a moment to settle in and listen deeply as Alex tells his story to his mom.

Black Lives Matter pre-March Worship in NYC and Arrests

This weekend my husband, Glen Retief, and I traveled to New York City, and with our host, Beth Reed, we had the privilege of attending the #BlackLivesMatter pre-March Worship service at Union Theological Seminary on Saturday 12/13/14. I found the service to be moving, revelatory, and well-structured. The speakers, the songs, the prayers, and the readings each kept adding and adding to the event–teaching, admonishing, and inspiring the audience.

The night before two students from the school, one Black and one White, were arrested. It is chilling to see the radical different ways the police treated these two protesters.

I have put up most of the audio from the service on SoundCloud page  including the singing. Here you can listen to the Opening Prayer by Ranwa Hammamy and the readings from Jeremiah 6:14,15, read by Carolyn Klassen, and Ephesians 6:10-13  (Now my pastor back in my Evangelical days at Times Square Church read the whole army of God passage regularly, but NEVER like Dean Yvette Wilson who interpreted it and gave it new, relevant life!)

People of Color Already Hit Hardest by Climate Change

Steven Hsieh writing for The Nation highlights the race disparity that exists in the USA when it comes to pollution.

Sixty-eight percent of African-Americans live within thirty miles of a coal-fired power plant, the zone of maximum exposure to pollutants that cause an array of ailments, from heart disease to birth defects. Communities of color breathe in nearly 40 percent more polluted air than whites. African-American children are three times as likely to suffer an asthma attack.

The NAACP launched its Climate Justice Initiative address the stark numbers head on. Working in conjunction with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and Indigenous Environmental Network, the Initiative published “Coal-Blooded: Putting Profits Before People” in 2012, which evaluated the impact of 378 coal-fired power plants on communities along racial and economic lines. “Just Energy Policies: Reducing Pollution and Creating Jobs,” released in December, looked at the energy policies of all fifty states through a civil rights lens.

The article continues with an interview of Jacqueline Patterson, executive director of the NAACP’s Climate Justice Initiative. She explains why people of color are affected more than others by climate change and the weather disasters associated with global warming. She also talks about the benefits of cleaner energy on communities of color.

Your work explores the importance of making sure benefits from clean energy are equitable and reach communities of color. Could you talk a little bit about that?

We talked earlier about how 68 percent of African-Americans live within thirty miles of a coal-fired power plant and other frontline communities, such as indigenous Native American communities and Latino communities, are also right in the smog zones of these facilities. Just transitioning to a more energy-efficient economy and clean energy economy would benefit those communities in terms of having clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and clean land to live on. In addition to that, we also want to make sure that those communities are in decision-making spaces as we develop this economy, as well as revenue-generating positions. African-Americans spent $41 million on energy in 2009, but only 1 percent of African-Americans were in energy jobs and less than 1 percent of revenue in the energy sector was earned by African-Americans. Whatever room there is for estimation on either side of those statistics, they’re still fairly stark in saying not only are we being negatively impacted by the current fossil-fuel dominated portfolio, we’re also not even benefiting from the revenue or jobs in that sector, nor are we in positions of being able to have input in how those sectors advance and roll out.

As we transition to a new-energy economy, we need frontline communities, not just communities of color but also low-income communities, to be working in decision-making and revenue-generating positions within the industry.

Read all the article: People of Color are Already Getting Hit the  Hardest by Climate Change 

(photo credit NYC International Socialist Organization)

Lambeth Log Final Day

Yesterday, my final full day at Lambeth, flew by quickly with lots of highlights.

I returned to the Changing Attitude/Integrity Bible study where they continued to looked at John 9. This time we considered how the man born blind grew to understand Jesus through sharing his experience with others.

The night before I had dinner with a friend who is disabled and often uses a wheelchair. She and another friend, a wheelchair user, recently traveled from England to Ireland on a holiday. They took the journey with a personal assistant to help out along the way. On their return to Heathrow, the airline temporarily misplaced both their wheelchairs. They sat in airport issued equipment while attempting to sort things out with a Heathrow employee. My friend said that throughout the entire exchange the employee spoke rudely, but more shocking still, the Heathrow employee never once looked at my friend or the other person also sitting in a wheelchair. He dealt exclusively with the assistant as if the two disabled women did not exist.

We see what appears to be a level of ableism in the John chapter nine story. The religious leaders repeatedly and rudely questioned the formerly blind man, and they treat him like an idiot or like some adults would treat a child as if he doesn’t know what he is talking about. In moment rarely seen in the Gospels, they completely discount his story and instead call on his parents to explain what happened.

18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?” 20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.”

I love how we can look at the scripture with different lenses to consider various perspectives. How often do “able-bodied” people treat disabled people like children as if they did not have a valid opinion or intelligence or feelings or romance or whatever.

Next I sat for an interview for the BBC World Service Reporting Religion. The presenter asked excellent questions. He and the producer prepared better than most journalists I have enounctered, having watched the DVD of Homo No Mo as well as listening to previous interviews. He asked penetrating and at times challenging questions. It was not a fluff interview at all. At one point he pressed in about my need/choice to be part of a church that was so controlling.

For years I continued to place myself in abusive churches that did not affirm me but often ruled with tactics of fear and shame. During the interview I got to explain about my current choice to be an active member in the Religious Society of Friends how the Quakers seem the exact opposite for me. It is a faith community where I have to find my own way without a leader telling me what to do or how to do it. (The show is slated to air next weekend. I will provide a link when it is up).

After that Auntie Doris, Tractor Girl and I met up with Davis Maclyalla, a gay man from Nigeria who received asylum from the UK government because of the dangers he faced in his home country. What a sweet and fun guy! He exuded such joy and confidence. His mind and heart sounded clear and at peace.

I took the most delicious nap in the afternoon (yes, we older folks need our afternoon naps) then met up with Auntie Doris for some silent worship before my presentation at Keynes Lecture Hall. Before we did though a producer from the BBC and his cameraman approached me, “You know we are filming you tonight because the Archbishop of Wales will attend your presentation,” he explained as I looked puzzled at all the equipment.

Actually I did not know, but turns out Barry Morgan, the archbishop, who has spoken out in favor of women bishops and the inclusion of LGBT people in the church, agreed to attend my performance and in fact asked all the Welsh bishops to join him. BBC Wales has tracked him with a film crew over the past few weeks for a documentary that will air in December.

My presentation went off well in many ways (with the archbishop prominently seating towards the front and an enthusiastic and attentive audience). I shared in more serious ways than the previous night. Of course I did funny bits from Homo No Mo but also included more about my spiritual journey as I attempted to explain to the audience how my mind looked during those 17 years when I sought to suppress and change my sexuality.

The crew told me that the archbishop would say a few words after the Q&A session. When I finished, the LGCM organizer asked me to stay in the front while the Barry Morgan spoke. I assumed the archbishop would share his views about LGBT people in the church or just give an tepid inspirational message to the audience like bishop types have been known to do. Instead he gave me one of the most affirming public tributes that I ever received. He thanked me and marveled that I still have faith after my trial and expressed admiration that I did not grow bitter because of it. He went on a bit more about my presentation as I sat there opened mouthed and nearly in tears.

After hearing about bishops who don’t listen or don’t care or don’t “get it,” it felt so good to hear something different, something affirming. And in a strange way, it felt healing. I mean after years of not getting affirmed by many different clergymen, to have an archbishop embrace me like that dislodged some of the rejection I had experienced. Ultimately I know that I stand on my own two feet before God and man about my life, and I do not need anyone in the church to approve or affirm me. But it still feels good to hear it.

I also met a wonderful woman from Utah. A recovering Mormon and a straight woman who has found many men to be jerks, she told me how much she appreciated hearing messages from a gay guy that went beyond the gay issues. More and more I have been talking about gender and sexism in my presentations as well as skin privilege. Although they each contain distinct features, many of these oppressions operate in similar ways.

She told me how recently she endured a negative incident with two gay men, who over drinks with her proceeded to pronounce all sorts of awful things about women. This shocked and hurt her; it did not surprise me. I have witnessed a tremendous amount of misogyny, a hatred or contempt of women, dished out by gay men. I cannot think of two groups that could be better allies, but sadly some gay men have not sorted out their own gender issues. They also have not begun to deprogrammed from the sexism and male privilege dumped into us by society. In my own freedom as a white gay man, I need to grow sensitive to the oppression of others–including women, non-whites and the disabled.

Over dinner last night Auntie Doris gave me a Rowan Williams Christmas ornament (the shop at Canterbury Cathedral has the coolest gifts) along with a postcard that contains a quote by Steve Biko,

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

Indeed. I know that during much of the Lambeth Conference and also in many of our faith traditions around the world, we seek to help oppressors and those not yet affirming of LGBT people to better understand the issues, to experience transformation by the renewing of their minds.

Far too many of us though still need to do that same work in our own minds. We need to detox from the shame that has addled our brains since childhood. We need to deprogram from the oppressive ways of thinking about ourselves and others. We need liberated minds and hearts filled with clarity about who we are and about the world around us. Many of us have begun this journey. Let’s press on and break off the shackles of what others have said about us and others, whoever we are, and let’s seek to see with a sharper vision and a deeper insight.

I head off to London today, then fly home tomorrow where I will get to spend a day with my home meeting before heading off to Baltimore Yearly Meeting for a week (which I imagine will be a restful time for me).

photo credit goes to Auntie Doris

Martin Luther King, Jr. & the Black Gay Quaker

I blogged last week about how deeply moved I felt when I heard the recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1958 address to the FGC gathering of Quakers. Today over lunch with Lynn, a Friend from Hartford Meeting, I shared my notes from the talk and felt inspired even more. Something else stirred; the reminder that King had as a mentor in his life a man named Bayard Rustin. In fact, Rustin wrote many of King’s speeches in the late 1950’s. I spent the afternoon in the garden re-reading two books I have about Rustin.

Bayard Rustin is one of the most important figures of the 20th century. A Quaker, an African-American and openly gay, he served as an architect and inspiration for the direction of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. In fact, he was already writing about racial equality and non-violence as early as 1942 in his article The Negro and Non-Violence. He stated,

Nonviolence as a method has within it the demand for terrible sacrifice and long suffering, but, as Gandhi has said, “freedom does not drop from the sky.” One has to struggle and be willing to die for it. J. Holmes Smith has indicated that he looks to the American Negro to assist in developing, along with the people of India, a new dynamic force for the solution of conflict that not merely will free these oppressed people but will set an example that may be the first step in freeing the world. (page nine of Time on Two Crosses—The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin.)

Rustin went on to practice what he preached by resisting the draft during World War II, thus enduring a prison sentence of nearly two years (and used his time in prison to address inequities towards the non-white inmates.)

Starting in the mid-1930’s Rustin used non-violent strategies to protest war and nuclear weapons. He learned directly from Gandhi’s people in India and soon applied his training and experience to addressing racial inequality and the oppression of African-Americans.

In 1947 a federal ruling struck down segregated interstate travel. Rustin and others wanted to test the ruling, so they organized an interracial group of men to travel by public buses and trains in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. They challenged the segregation laws still practiced in those areas. Arrests took place on six different occasions with a total of 12 of the riders arrested. Rustin wrote about the experience,

Without exception those arrested behaved in a nonviolent fashion. They acted without fear, spoke quietly and firmly, showing great consideration for the police and bus drivers, and repeatedly pointed to the fact that they expected the police to do their duty as they saw it. We cannot overemphasize the necessity for this courteous and intelligent conduct while breaking with the caste system. (page 15)

Rustin first met Dr. King during the bus boycotts of Montgomery, AL in 1955, shortly after King’s house had been bombed. In his well-written biography, Lost Prophet—The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, John D’Emilio reveals the importance of Rustin’s input into Dr. King’s non-violent work.

From the start, Rustin communicated to King not only the efficacy and moral value of nonviolence, but the special responsibility of leaders to model it fully (page 231).

According to D’Emilio, King had only a “passing acquaintance with the philosophy and career of Gandhi…Rustin initiated the process that transformed King into the most illustrious American proponent of nonviolence in the twentieth century.” (page 231)

King had to learn non-violence from somewhere. He was in his late 20’s when he arrived in Montgomery. He was on his own for the first time, which poignantly comes through in his 1958 FGC address. His father was not going to be able to help him all the way from Atlanta. King needed to learn a lot and quickly. Rustin came to him seasoned in non-violence theory and practice.

To Rustin, efforts by King’s followers or by historians to present King as a fully developed Gandhian at the start of the boycott were a disservice to the man. “He had not been prepared for [the job] either tactically, strategically, or in his understanding of nonviolence,” Rustin emphatically told an interviewer. “The glorious thing is that he came to a profoundly deep understanding of nonviolence through the struggle itself, and through reading and discussion which he had in the process of carrying on the protest, not that, in some way, college professors who had read Gandhi had prepared him in advance. This is just a hoax.” Arriving in Montgomery a week after Rustin, Glenn Smiley, (another long-time peace activist from NYC), confirmed Rustin’s evaluation. About Gandhian nonviolence, Smiley insisted, King “knew nothing.” (pages 230, 231)

Not only did Rustin help King to understand the principles of non-violence and the application to the current situation, he began to ghostwrite speeches and articles for King starting in 1955. (see Rustin standing behind King during the March on Washington, which Rustin organized) The first article written by Rustin and ascribed to King appeared in April of that year. According to D’Emilio:

(Rustin) highlighted the messages that he believed had the most strategic value: that the boycott signaled the birth of a “new Negro” and a “revolutionary change in the Negro’s evaluation of himself”; that “economics is part of our struggle”; that that the boycotters had discovered “a new and powerful weapon—non-violent resistance.” (page 239)

20 years older than King, Rustin spoke like a teacher to a pupil in his letters to the young civil rights’ leader (page 241) and also helped King see connections to international politics and economics affecting all poor people.

So here comes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the annual gathering of Quakers in summer 1958. He gives an amazing, profound, and crystal clear message about the struggle for racial equality and the need to use non-violent methods along with connections to international post-colonial struggles and the economy. The passion with which King speaks tells me the message comes from his heart, but I believe much of it came from Rustin’s pen like many of King’s other speeches during this time period–especially because in this case King spoke to Rustin’s own people, the Quakers.

You can purchase a printed version of the speech or an audio tape here, but I want to share from the notes I took as I listened to the speech at FGC a week ago. In the work that I do around the Ex-Gay Movement and the full liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the US and elsewhere, I can hear critical messages for us in King’s (and Rustin’s) message. (King used the term Negro throughout. I will just use “people” in my notes)

  • The Bible has not been properly interpreted. There is a problem with a literal reading, and as a result people were taught they were inferior. They believed this and lost faith in themselves. It has left scars on the soul. People need to take a fresh look at themselves. God loves all his children; each one is made in his image. A new person has come to being which creates the present crisis. Humans with dignity struggle for freedom and human dignity, but privileged people won’t easily give it up.
  • How will the Struggle be Waged? Non-violence. Physical violence and hatred (the twins of Western materialism) only achieve victory, not peace.
  • Non-violence is not for cowards.
  • It does not seek to defeat and humiliate opponents. Instead it seeks to make friends and awaken a sense of shame over injustice.
  • We do not go after individuals, rather the evil systems that victimizes both the oppressed and the oppressor.
  • The non-violent resister accepts suffering without retaliation. Meet physical violence with what Gandhi called Soulforce. We still love you.
  • We avoid internal violence of spirit. We refuse to hate our opponent. An e”ye for an eye” leaves everyone blind.
  • This is not sentimental love, but agape, a love that offers creative understanding and seeks nothing in return. We love them because God loves them. Love your enemies—this transforms the soul of your opponent.
  • We have faith in the future believing the universe is on the side of justice. No lie can live forever.

I stepped out of the talk stirred, shaken, challenged, convicted, and moved deeply in regards to the work that I seek to do. What thrills me is that not only did King moved me, but also the Black gay Quaker, Bayard Rustin, who shaped those words in King’s life and for all of us to hear.

Time on Two Crosses—The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin
Lost Prophet—The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin
To see VIDEO of Bayard in action go here.
William D. Lindsey, a Quaker who writes for the blog Bilgrimage, also has a rich post about Rustin with lots of detailed info outlining various influences in Rustin’s life including Methodism.

Why are Whites so Homophobic?

I once got into a big fight with a friend of mine, another white gay guy. After reading about a Black minister spouting off anti-gay remarks in a service, my friend pronounced,
The Black church is so homophobic.

Me: Yeah, but the white Evangelical church is much worse.

He: How can you say that? Read the ugly things this Black minister just said.

Me: Yeah, I know, it is awful, but he is not running a multi-million dollar para-church organization that reaches millions of Americans through daily radio programs. He does not have weekly briefings with the president in order to influence policy and legislation that affects LGBT people. He does not influence local and state and national elections through his nationally televised sermons. He does not have the economic and political resources to sway members of congress. He does not regularly feed thousands of ministers, youth workers and Christian counselors lies about LGBT people.

He is being loud and ugly, and that is wrong, but the folks at Focus on the Family and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Concerned Women for America and the American Family Association and the Southern Baptist Convention (all white owned and run organizations) and in the White House itself engage in systematic and organized oppression against LGBT people and their families everyday.

He: I’m just saying…

Me: RANT, RANT, RANT (for a long time until I utterly exhaust him. It is one of my more effective and obnoxious strategies.)

Keith Boykin writes about it better than I can.

Yes there are some well-known black homophobes out there who get a lot of attention and a lot of criticism, as they should. But let’s not use those examples to prove that all blacks are much more homophobic than whites. The irony is that the famous black homophobes are taking their marching orders from the homophobic white society that taught them. So let’s stop asking why black people are so homophobic. Black Americans didn’t invent homophobia; they copied it from the white society in which they live. And if we focus only on the black homophobes, we lose sight of the more influential white bigots in power who quietly perpetuate the status quo every day with their words and their policies.

Boykin (who spoke at last year’s True Colors conference–only four more days!) explores the Marine Gen. Peter Pace’s recent statements on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, where the General “compared homosexuality to adultery, which he said was also immoral, and said the U.S. armed forces should not allow gays to serve openly in the military.”

Read more of Boykin’s piece Why are Whites so Homophobic?
Hat Tip to the always insightful Terrance at Republic of T

A Quaker Comic Minstrel Show–Not in my Town!

Something is terribly wrong is happening right now in the white gay community in Hartford, CT (where I live).

A white drag queen (who identifies, by the way as a Quaker Minister) is coming to Hartford in ‘blackface’ as a welfare mom with 17 children, calling herself Shirley Q. Liquor. And many (but not all) white gay men do not see a problem with this.

As a Quaker, as a white man, as a gay man, as a comic performer who plays many characters including Black women, I can say that this is wrong on so many levels. That the performer and the venue will not back down or listen to reason, reveals the arrogance and ignorance so often among privileged white gay men. We cry victim because of how we have been oppressed, yet we refuse to see the oppression of others and our own contribution to that oppression.

Local activists (mostly young people) have begun actions including a myspace page Ban Shirley Q. The local press has covered the story. And True Colors, an LGBTIQ organization for youth has organized an anti-racism show featuring Karen Williams. I will also attend at the event. The local Quakers are gathering to organize a response from the meeting. Shirley Q performs around the US, so even if you don’t live near Hartford, join the myspace page and stay aware and vocal.

Too often white gay men have sat back and contributed indirectly and directly to racism and the advancement of white skin privilege and the oppression of women. If we stand up and speak out something terribly good can happen in Hartford and beyond.